Olympics: Threat of strikes has organisers seething

By David Leggat

Union leaders attempted to organise walkouts at Heathrow Airport overnight along with London Underground workers starting a work-to-rule regime from tonight.
Union leaders attempted to organise walkouts at Heathrow Airport overnight along with London Underground workers starting a work-to-rule regime from tonight.

Unrest among airport and rail workers has potential to do harm at critical time If you assumed London would be overwhelmed by a police presence you'd be wrong. The front page headline in the national newspaper roared it out: "A Gold Medal For Cynicism".

And no, it was not in reference to what could be termed the default position for many Britons on any number of aspects of life.

Rather it referred to attempts by union leaders to organise walkouts at Heathrow Airport overnight along with London Underground workers starting a work-to-rule regime from tonight.

Throw in disruptive action planned on important suburban rail routes to Olympic Games sites and there is a bad feeling that things could go pear-shaped for Games organisers at precisely the time they wanted a smooth start to the Olympiad.

There's no question anger is boiling at the prospect of pesky unionists setting up a ruinous travel situation because, in broad terms, the Games, which start with a spectacular opening ceremony early tomorrow (NZ time), are in good shape.

The vibe is good, the volunteers are uniformly helpful, doing their work with a smile and the right attitude. The test will inevitably be if they're still on song by day eight.

The facilities are tip top, although as you drive around the vast Olympic Park, venue for a large chunk of sporting activity, there are piles of rubble and portakabins as final touches are completed. There are scruffy areas you would not expect in between the pristine parts of the 222ha complex.

The thought occurred that if this had been Athens, or Beijing, the last two Olympic venues, some of Britain's more right-leaning media outlets would have delighted in poking a stick at that level of ineptitude.

There was a glimpse of the potential problems of a groaning underground system this week.

On a belting hot day, an underground journey of about 25 minutes was a deeply unpleasant experience.

A sweaty, squashed pile of humanity with no air conditioning is no fun. Having a smelly armpit as your closest companion for the length of time it takes to play Hey Jude four times is not among life's bucket list experiences.

If you assumed London would be overwhelmed by a police presence you'd be wrong, although that should be qualified by the point that things might be more overt once competition starts.

There is no comparison with Beijing four years ago when the city was swamped with heavily armed soldiers and security personnel. Their attitude was one of putting out a highly visible presence, aimed at prevention of any trouble rather than reacting to it.

Put it this way: if you tried to scale the famous Eros statue in Piccadilly Circus topless waving a Union Jack you might get away with it on the basis it was a harmless lark; had you tried sprinting across Tiananmen Square waving your shirt and acting the goat you would not have made 20 metres.

Certainly uniformed police patrol the streets, but not in excessive numbers. This, of course, doesn't include the plain clothes officers. But there is an orderly feel.

Certainly London is heaving in terms of crowds but nothing out of the ordinary for this city.

Annual summer tourist numbers can make this one of the world's great queue-fests anywhere around the famous attractions, as a drive through the heart of the city this week amply illustrated.

That is not an Olympic spinoff; it's just the way it is at this time of year in London.

Britons love their pomp and ceremony. They've had the Wills and Kate wedding, more recently the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

They do it well and the Games, to those of that persuasion, are another opportunity to put the bunting out.

- NZ Herald

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